Car-Buying Services: What To Know

Online car-buying retailers, car concierges, car brokers and club programs help shoppers throughout the car-buying process.
Funto Omojola
By Funto Omojola 
Edited by Julie Myhre-Nunes
Car-Buying Services: Skip the Dealership Stress

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Car-buying services like online car retailers, car concierges, car brokers and club car-buying programs can make purchasing a vehicle easier. These services help you with the entire car-buying process — everything from searching for and choosing the right car to negotiating the best deal and even car delivery. But they can be costly if you can’t weed out the untrustworthy options.

Here are some car-buying services to consider and what to know about them.

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Online car-buying retailers

Online used-car retailers like Carvana and CarMax provide car listings and allow shoppers to browse and choose cars, arrange financing, and purchase a vehicle either for pickup or home delivery. Some of these services take trade-ins as well, even if you still owe money on the car.

Best for: Those who want the convenience of car-shopping on their own time, without having to visit a dealership, and don’t mind not being able to test-drive a vehicle before purchase.

Cost: It doesn’t cost anything to use these online platforms — they're free to the public. However, if you choose to have your car delivered, there may be a delivery fee depending on what retailer you use.

Note that some online platforms also charge processing and dealer fees like you'd pay if you purchased a car from a physical dealership.

What to know:

  • Most of these websites offer no-haggle pricing, though this doesn't automatically mean it's a good deal. Check auto-pricing guides, such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, to see if the cost of the car you want makes sense given its mileage, options and condition. 

  • There’s usually a money-back guarantee for seven days to one month. This return policy partially offsets the lack of availability of test drives which is why it's important to get a car inspection within this window.

  • Many of these companies offer financing to make purchases easy. But before you agree to any financing, consider getting a preapproved auto loan from an online lender or your local bank to make sure you get the best deal.

Car concierges

Auto concierges learn about a shopper’s vehicle needs and preferences, then do the legwork. That includes searching dealership inventories, haggling, negotiating extended warranty contracts. They’ll sometimes even arrange car delivery.

Car-buying concierge is a highly specialized service that only a few companies currently offer — AuthorityAuto is one.

Best for: Those who want a specific car will appreciate the specialized service of a car concierge.

Cost: Concierges charge an upfront flat fee or a percentage of the amount they save you on the vehicle purchase. This fee depends on the car they’re tasked with finding. Typically, the more expensive a car, the higher the concierge service fee will be.

What to know:

  • The fees might be largely offset by the amount a concierge can save you by negotiating.

  • While concierge services do most of the work for you, it’s important to do your research about how much you can afford to spend on a car and what your top choices of make, model, color and features are, before you contact one. 

Car brokers

Similar to car-buying concierge services, brokers can help buyers search car lots, haggle, negotiate and buy the right car. Brokers are often former car salespeople and typically well-versed in the tactics of dealerships. They can operate individually or as part of a large company with multiple agents. One of the main differences between a broker and a concierge is that some brokers have relationships with specific dealers and receive commissions from them for bringing in customers. (More on this below).

Best for: Those who want the expertise of an experienced car salesperson, but don’t want to visit a dealership yourself.

Cost: Broker fees depend on the broker and car price, but can range anywhere from $0 to $1,000. Note that some brokers charge car buyers a small fee or none at all and in exchange receive an undisclosed commission from the dealership. Buyers should be aware that this raises the possibility for some brokers to be incentivized to settle for a higher price or only visit dealerships with which they have a good relationship.

What to know:

  • Auto-buying programs and car concierges provide similar services and don't take money from dealerships while car brokers might get commission from the sale. Find trusted car brokers through online review sites or recommendations from friends to avoid working with unreputable agents or companies. 

Car-buying programs

Companies like AAA and Consumer Reports offer car-buying programs to members. Through such services members can input their ideal car model and features online, then the company’s representatives search for a match within their certified dealership network. These approved dealerships offer low, prearranged pricing in exchange for the company’s referrals. Once your representative has found an option, they will arrange for you to visit the dealership. You can take a test drive and sign a contract if you think it’s the right car for you. Regional banks and credit unions also offer a similar service, or they might even host car sales events in partnership with local dealers.

Best for: Those who are already members of a company, bank or credit union that offers a car-buying program.

Cost: There might be a small fee for this service, but it's often free with membership.

What to know:

  • Your car-buying professional might not find the exact model or color you wanted in the dealership network. You're more likely to find the car you prefer with these services if you're looking for a widely available model.

  • Many of these representatives can offer advice about which cars are best in class or suggest vehicles you might not have considered.

  • You’ll still be offered an extended warranty and other additional products by the dealership. But the price of the car is locked in.

  • Many of these car-buying programs — for example, AAA, AARP, American Express, Consumer Reports, Geico and Sam's Club — are powered by the same underlying provider, like TrueCar or Enterprise Car Sales.

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